Read an Excerpt
When attorney Darlene Cunningham made up her mind, she rarely ever changed it. And that had created some problems for her and her family. As the youngest partner at Myrtle, Coppersmith & Cunningham LLP, Darlene usually got the least promising and least interesting cases assigned in the three-person law firm.
But her job as a defense attorney meant everything to her. Even the smallest detail of the most mundane case got her professional juices flowing. Take for instance her current case. She had to force herself not to get too excited about it. There was something suspicious about her client. Something wasn't right about the burglary case, and it was driving her crazy.
And then a witness had come forward and volunteered to testify on her client's behalf. It all seemed too convenient, she thought. It just didn't add up, and Darlene was determined to find out why.
That's why Darlene had decided to fly down to Memphis and reinterview the witness. Though her partners didn't think it was worthwhile for Darlene to travel all that way just to nail down the facts in the case, Darlene disagreed.
And so here she was in Memphis, trying to locate the alibi witness, the only witness who could testify that her client, Albert Frank, was somewhere else at the time the crime took place. A very convenient witness who had very inconveniently vanished without a trace.
Darlene landed at Memphis International Airport, exhausted after having transferred twice on the trip from Baltimore. Having refused the peanuts and pretzels offered on the plane, she was hungry and a bit on edge. She'd never been to Memphis before, and the intensity of the heat and humidity surprised her, adding to her discomfort.
She checked into the famous Peabody Hotelknown for its duck march through the lobbyand called room service for a pulled-pork sandwich and iced tea. She unpacked while she waited for her food to arrive. After she'd eaten, Darlene once again tried to contact Frank's alibi witness at the number she'd been given. To her disappointment, she got no answer, not even voice mail.
With no word from her witness, she struck out the next morning to check on her client's story about where the witness lived. She took a cab to the address he'd given her in an upscale neighborhood in a cul-de-sac bordering Memphis and Collerville. She would have expected just about any neighborhood other than the quiet, pristine homes that screamed old-money wealth and power. Less sure of herself now, she knocked on the door, since she had not seen a doorbell.
"Come in," a slender gray-haired man in a black suit, white shirt and black tie said with a gracious smile. "Not many people come here these days." He spoke haltingly, and she decided that he was part of the household staff, a fair assumption given the neighborhood. "Have a seat," the man said as he gestured toward what she discovered was an elegant living room.
"Thank you. This heat is almost unbearable," Darlene said to fill the awkward silence. She used a tissue to wipe her forehead.
"Yes, it is," the man said. "Would you care for some sweetened iced tea? I made it a few minutes ago. If you're uncomfortable, I can turn up the air conditioner."
She leaned against the back of a tufted velvet chair and looked at the man. "Thank you, but I don't care for tea, and the air-conditioning is fine. This is a beautiful house, but it must be very old. No one seems to build these kinds of houses anymore." Small talk was something she hated, but she had to engage the man in conversation if she was to learn anything about her client.
"Yes, it's old, all right. My grandfather built it. But I renovated it from roof to cellar about twenty-five years ago. Sure you wouldn't like some tea or iced coffee?"
"No thank you. I was given this address and was told a young man, an alibi witness, lived here. But I see I was wrong, so I'd better be going," Darlene said, somewhat surprised that the old man lived in the home. "Thanks for your hospitality."
"I wish you wouldn't go," he said as she reached for the doorknob. "I've enjoyed your company. I don't get much company anymore."
"I'm sorry," she said as she opened the door. She turned to leave, only to find her exit blocked. She looked up into the eyes of a six-foot-three-inch boulder.
"Excuse me. I was j-just leaving," she stammered, taken aback by her sudden encounter with this immovable object.
"You aren't going anywhere," he said.
"Would you please get out of my way," Darlene said, letting him know that she was not easily intimidated.
The man put his hand in the inside pocket of his jacket, took out his badge and flashed it. "I'm Detective Michael Raines of the Memphis Police, and you don't leave this house until I say so."
Darlene looked him in the eye. "Really? I thought all the bullies in uniform were in Baltimore. Apparently Tennessee has some, too. How interesting! Now, would you please move aside? I have business to take care of."
He raised an eyebrow. "Go right ahead. Maybe you can walk through me."
She stared at him, seeing him as if for the first time. Something flickered in his light brown eyes, and she responded, unable to do otherwise. She told herself to get out of there. But she stood rooted to the spot. His eyes said he would never release her. She shook her head as if to break the spell he had cast over her.
"I'm Attorney Darlene Cunningham, and you have no reason to keep me here. If you don't let me pass, I'll sue you, the city of Memphis and the state of Tennessee," she said, her mild manner dissolving into anger.
His facial expression didn't change one bit. Realizing that belligerence would get her nowhere with Detective Raines, she decided to switch tactics.
"You haven't read me my rights, and you have to do that if I'm under arrest." Her voice took on a taunting tone.
"You are not under arrest, Ms. Cunningham. You are being detained."
She leaned her head to the side in what she knew he'd take as a challenge. "What's the difference?" she said, clearly losing patience.
"Very funny, Ms. Cunningham, but you may as well have a seat, because you cannot leave this house until I say so."
Darlene turned to the old man. "You didn't tell me your name."
"My name is Boyd Farmer. Have a seat. At least it's comfortable in here."
"Is this guy your son? Oh, sorry," she said before Boyd could respond. "You're too nice to have such an arrogant, obnoxious son. I really need to go."
"I'm sorry," Boyd said. "He isn't going to let you go."
She whirled around and glared at Michael Raines, and for her trouble she felt a peculiar thudding in the region of her heart. "At least I deserve to know why I'm being detained," she said. "What did I do?" Realizing that her tone would only make him more adamant, she switched tactics again. "You're unlike any detective I've ever met."
"What do you mean by that?" His tone was definitely not friendly.
"Oh," she said, tossing her hair to the side. "I mean, aren't police officers supposed to protect and serve?"
Boyd's laughter filled the room, but she avoided looking in his direction. Instead she focused on Michael Raines.
"Yeah," he said. "Now, sit down and let's cut the comedy."
Darlene did not like taking orders from a stranger, even one with a badge. She didn't move. "You don't look stupid," she told him. "You have to tell me why you're holding me here. It's the law. Tell me why I'm being detained, or I'm leaving." She tried to move past him.
He grabbed her shoulders and glared at her. "What are you doing here?"
She twisted her shoulders and moved away from him. "I'm trying to get information that I hope will help my client's case."
"You'll have to prove that to me. This house has been under surveillance, and neither you nor anyone else can leave here. Get it?"
She'd have to come up with a different excuse. Getting back to her office in Maryland was paramount. The other partners already considered her trip to Memphis little more than a wild-goose chase, and if they discovered her present predicament She didn't want to think of their reaction.
"I have to get back to my hotel," she said.
He folded his arms across his broad chest and smiled, giving evidence that he could be charming when it suited him. "Oh, so I gather you plan to leave Memphis."
"No, as a matter of fact I'm staying at the Peabody," she said.
"Really?" he said. "I'm sure it won't be a problem for you to stay here."
"Now, look here, you," she said, with all the softness of a wildcat about to pounce. "You're going to." She stopped. His beautiful eyes twinkled like flashing lights, and she could see his difficulty in restraining his laughter.
"You're not one bit funny, and I'll have the last laugh."
At that point, Boyd brought the tea along with a brioche and jam. "This should make you comfortable." She thanked him. "Detective Raines doesn't like tea, and I don't have any more coffee," he said.
"How long has he been here?" Darlene asked Boyd, pointing to Michael.
"He's been here two weeks. That's why I don't have any more coffee. He's practically a coffee addict."
She took a few sips of tea and looked at Michael. "Coffee addict, eh? I'm glad to have at least some evidence that you're human."
Something akin to pain flickered in his eyes, and she wished she could retract her words. It wasn't his fault that she'd stumbled into a house that was under surveillance. He was doing his job. Maybe if she appealed to his decency, he'd let her go.
"If I'm stuck here for any length of time, I'll lose my case." She told herself that she wouldn't beg, but that had sounded very much like a plea. She observed him carefully to see his response.
"But how do I know you've told me the truth? You could be the person I've spent the last few weeks looking for."
"Oh, come on," she said, her attitude inching toward aggressiveness again. "Anybody can look at me and see that I'm not a burglar."
He looked toward the ceiling as if begging for mercy. "Another statement like that and I'll have proof that you're not a lawyer."
"I am, and I have to be in court Monday morning. If I don't show up, I'll be in contempt."
"I can take care of that. Give me your client's name and the case number. I'll take care of the problem right now."
"No, thank you. I don't want any help from you."
His quick shrug let her know what he thought of her response.
"You're a heartless man." "If you say so."
Darlene was already mad with herself. She decided to switch gears one more time, hoping that a different tactic might soften him up. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself for doing this to an innocent person," she chided. "You could ruin my life."
Boyd walked over to where Darlene and Michael stood at loggerheads. "Darlene I hope you don't mind if I call you Darlene. Wouldn't you like to freshen up a bit? There's a lovely guest room and bath upstairs, and if you're going to be here for a while, you're welcome to use it."
She could see that Boyd wanted to lower the tension between them, so she smiled and patted his arm. "Thanks. That would be lovely."
"Leave your pocketbook and that briefcase down here," Michael said. "And don't think you can use the phone up there. It's been disconnected. On second thought, I'll show you where the guest room is. Who knows what you'll try to do?"
Darlene whirled around and headed for the stairs, intent upon finding the room herself, but he managed to move slightly ahead of her. "This way," he said, turning left at the top of the stairs.
At the bedroom door, she tossed her head back, sending her hair flying around her face.
A grin spread over his face. "Don't even think about it. That's a thirty-foot drop. You're clever enough to know that if you jumped, you'd hurt yourself. Besides, every window in this house is locked."
Slouched against the doorjamb, Michael stared down at her. Then his gaze shifted from her eyes down to her lips and stayed there. His light brown eyes darkened. His nostrils flared, and he sucked in his breath.
"I don't need you to chaperone me while I go to the bathroom," she challenged.
Not a muscle in his face moved. "Why don't you say what you really mean? Darlene, I could have you thrashing with passion one minute and handcuff you the next."
"I don't believe you," she said, moving toward him.
He folded his arms across his chest. "You're reckless, but I'm not. You're ready to do something stupid right now, and you haven't given a second thought to the consequences."
How many times had she heard those very words from her family? As usual, she ignored the advice. "What consequences?" she asked. "You're a cop, and you're obligated to behave like one."
His laugh was barely more than a groan. "I'm also a man. And since I'm a cop, when it's your word against mine, mine carries more weight. Get in there, wash your face or whatever else you plan to do and stop testing me. If I decide to take you up on your flirtations, you'll remember it for a long time."
"Really? I'd love to know what you'd do."